Changing Planet

Notes From Elephant Country, Part II: Ozzie’s Back!

Mushara Elephant Project, Etosha National Park, Namibia — Ozzie showed up Friday night after three large family groups had come and gone. I recognized the metallic rattling noise he makes with his trunk and turned on the night vision to see what he was up to. There he was, curling his trunk across his face, dribbling urine like a loose faucet. He had missed all the action this evening.

More wind had kept the families deep in the bush until just after sunset, when they all started barreling in for a much needed drink, starting with the Goddesses, then the Actors and then Big Momma, almost 90 elephants in total. I got to see Erin’s new baby again, but still no sighting yet during the day to be able to sex and name the new addition to Wynona’s growing family.

There wasn’t the typical shoving and bellowing that went on when a more dominant family usurps the water from an unlucky subordinate. More and more elephants just kept quietly pouring in under the waxing moon. Maybe everyone was too thirsty to care about rank in the moment. The only ones that willingly drank from the salty pan were Wynona and Erin and their new babies.

Ozzie rattled his trunk again, sounding like the clanking of the manhole cover on the bunker. Ozzie is up to his usual tricks this season, harassing bulls twice his size. On Friday, the gentle giant, Gakulu, was his victim. Ozzie ignored his three contemporaries, Little Johnny, Raymond and Trevi, and went straight for Gakulu.

Young males pay Ozzie their respects with a group trunk-to-mouth greeting. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Young males pay Ozzie their respects with a group trunk-to-mouth greeting. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

Gakulu retreated at a clip and hid behind camp for a good long while, while Ozzie mixed it up with the Scimitar family, giving his contemporaries an opportunity to pay their respects with a trunk-to-mouth greeting (image above), while he gently dodged babies to get closer to the ladies (images below).

Ozzie dodges new calves to inspect females from the Scimitar family as they drink. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Ozzie dodges new calves to inspect females from the Scimitar family as they drink. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Some of the females are more receptive to Ozzie’s investigations than others. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Some of the females are more receptive to Ozzie’s investigations than others. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

He even had a congenial sparring dust up with Little Johnny for old time sake (below).

Ozzie enjoys sparring with his contemporaries and juniors in between terrorizing his elder potential competitors. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Ozzie enjoys sparring with his contemporaries and juniors in between terrorizing his elder potential competitors. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

Being social was not supposed to be a concern of a bull in musth—but that was typical for Ozzie who seems to break most of the rules of musth, most importantly, his young age.

Late afternoon yesterday was more of the same, only the family group traffic had built up in the south earlier than usual and at three-thirty, the waterhole was nonstop full of elephants until sunset. Toward the end of the chaotic drinking session, Ozzie marched in and made things all the more chaotic by chasing Spencer away and spooking all the families, sending everyone off in a dusty retreat (images below).

Ozzie chases Spencer away from the waterhole, sending thirty families scattering to avoid a potential conflict. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Ozzie chases Spencer away from the waterhole, sending thirty families scattering to avoid a potential conflict. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Ozzie makes his intent quite clear as he follows through with his charge of Spencer, who retreats without hesitation. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell
Ozzie makes his intent quite clear as he follows through with his charge of Spencer, who retreats without hesitation. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

Ozzie hasn’t had much competition this year, although Jeff is now in musth and has the craziest musth glint in his eye that I’ve ever seen in a musth bull (below).

Jeff, wild-eyed, in musth, with very swollen temporal glands, curling his trunk across his face. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Jeff, wild-eyed, in musth, with very swollen temporal glands, curling his trunk across his face. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

It makes me think that Ozzie’s now got more than one thing to worry about out there in the bush, being in musth well before his time. First it was Smokey, and now Jeff. I can’t help but wonder what a showdown between them might be like, but I’m assuming that Ozzie is smarter than to show up when either of these two formidable musth bulls are in residence.

I watched Ozzie through my night vision again last night while he paraded around the perimeter of the waterhole, shoulders high, waving ears and curling trunk as he turned and headed southeast in the path of all the ladies, on their way to Kameeldoring, the closest waterhole to the east.

Mushara Elephant Project field camp. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell.
Mushara Elephant Project field camp. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

Caitlin O’Connell, PhD

Author of Elephant Don, Ivory Ghosts, and the upcoming Bridge To The Wild

Stanford University School of Medicine

Utopia Scientific (www.utopiascientific.org, elephantskinny.tumblr.com)

Dr. Caitlin O’Connell is a faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine and a world-renowned expert on elephants.  Her twenty five years of research has resulted in numerous scientific publications and five popular books, including the internationally acclaimed The Elephant’s Secret Sense. The Elephant Scientist won five awards, including both the Sibert and Horn Book Honors. An Elephant’s Life and A Baby Elephant In The Wild depict the complex social lives of elephants through images. The Elephant Don comes out next spring along with her debut novel, Ivory Ghosts. ELEPHANT KING, a documentary about her research, won the CINE Best Environment & Nature Award. Caitlin's research into seismic transmission and detection of elephant vocalizations has been funded in part by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration. For more information, visit her nonprofit organization Utopia Scientific website (utopiascientific.org) and her author site at caitlineoconnell.com. She and her husband, Tim Rodwell, write the tumblr blog elephantskinny.tumblr.com. Also follow her on twitter: Mushara Author photo credit: Max Salomon
  • Mary Smolak

    I love elephants. Do everything You can to save them and to keep them healthy.

  • susan monaghan

    I love elephants too , would love to see them in keep up the good work on their behalf…. thankyou

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